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by Jim Wunderle

"Hard Rain"

Directed by: Mikael Salomon

Starring: Christian Slater, Morgan Freeman, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver

Rated: R

I guess it should be obvious: All good things must come to an end. The past month or so has seen a flood of great, nearly great and really good films coming out of Hollywood.

After a bit of a late-fall dry spell, the Christmas/New Year's season gave us "Titanic," "Good Will Hunting," "As Good as it Gets," "Deconstructing Harry" and "The Boxer," all worthy efforts.

While this past weekend featured the national release of Martin Scorsese's biopic of the Dalai Lama, "Kundun," what we ended up with in Springfield was the less-than-thrilling lineup of "Fallen," "Half Baked" and "Hard Rain." It was a tough choice picking the lesser of three evils and probably a no-win situation for the serious moviegoer.

"Hard Rain" has a fairly noteworthy pedigree. It was written by Graham Yost, who also did the screenplay for "Speed"; directed by Mikael Salomon, who was the cinematographer on James Cameron's "The Abyss"; and features a cast that just can't be beat.

Cast members include Morgan Freeman, the offbeat but always enjoyable Randy Quaid, Christian "try to ignore my personal life" Slater and one of the most enjoyable of the new class of young female stars, Minnie Driver.

Also in the mix are TV vets Ed Asner and Betty White, and a relatively unknown group of supporting players who spend most of the time chewing the scenery or being just plain make that unbelievably poor at their craft.

Betty White, too, gives us some of the most embarrassingly bad scenes to come along this year I know, it's early yet, but it's going to be hard to top (or should that be "bottom"?) the lesser parts of this ham fest.

On top of that, director Salomon seems to think that shattering glass plate glass, stained glass, windows, doors, even eyeglasses is some sort of brilliant cinematic device. Believe me, it gets old quickly.

To be fair, the basic story here is a decent foundation for an action/mystery film. A group of "bad guys," led by Morgan Freeman, are about to pull an armored-car heist. The relentless rain has caused widespread flooding, and at first this seems to be an asset for the thieves.

But, after coming upon the armored car, flooded on the outskirts of town, one of the hot-headed young members of the group screws things up by shooting one of the guards. He does this while taking time out from over acting.

The other guard knows these guys will have to kill him as well, so he takes the money, runs (er ... swims) off and stashes it in a safe place, leading to the rest of the film that is an endless cat-and-mouse game between the guard, the thieves, the local (recently defeated in an election) sheriff and Minnie Driver, who shows up to divert the attention of the male members of the audience.

In the end, it's not even fair to say this was a totally worthless film. It does have its entertaining moments although most of them are probably unintentional and at the risk of sounding like a lecherous old coot, the Minnie Driver ploy very nearly worked.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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